by Bernie Furshpan

What is the common denominator with crying, laughing and applauding?  Well, it’s simpler than you think.  Scientists, biologists, psychologists and sociologists attempt to explain the simple act of laughing as an expression of relief from tension or a response to a punchline with an unexpected twist to a joke.  That sounds good and acceptable as an explanation.  However, there’s more to it than meets the eye and the beauty and simplicity of the true explanation is so captivating, you’ll need some time to let it absorb before it’s fully realized.


The simple explanation is that all three acts of acknowledgment arise when closure of a group of associated events occurs.  An entertainer’s function is to take you through a roller-coaster ride, a full cycle, and bring you back to the starting point, safe and sound.  When a comedian takes the stage, he or she has a job to do, to entertain.  In this case, the comedian, like all entertainers, be it on stage, screen or broadcast, must earn admiration and trust. A perfect metaphor is a trial lawyer.  The comedian presents the subject, usually an angst of some sort.  The objective is to appeal to the jury, the audience, to see his point of view and to win them over.  Once they’ve unanimously agreed that the cause of his angst created enough tension, the audience is practically begging the comedian to let the antagonist “have it,” and the well-crafted punchline should satisfy the audiences’ needs. The serving of punishment for a crime has been an integral component of social justice for thousands of years.  From beheadings to stoning, to imprisonment, it’s a function of creating a sense of harmony.  A crime was committed, justice is served.


Stand up comedy serves justice bloodlessly with public humiliation.  The punishment can be pointed to a family member, a politician, someone very annoying or at oneself with self-deprecating humor.  The point is that harmony is achieved when a comedian presents a header or a case, sets up the reasoning with an example to prove his point, and then serves justice with an insult.  The stronger the case and example, followed by a strong insult to match, the heartier the laughter.  The justice must match the crime, otherwise the comedian gets booed off the stage with a weak case and an overkill punchline, or a chuckle with a strong case and weak punchline.


Another example of how comedy works is exemplified with TV shows that exhibit videos with people doing stupid things and getting hurt.  Why do people find it hilarious when a kid whacks a baseball bat into his father’s groin? Let me cite another situation.  A couple who drank too much at a wedding climb onto a table and start dancing.  They fall off and the audience is busting out with laughter.  Now, if you were either one of this couple, you probably didn’t find it amusing when you woke up in the orthopedic ward of a hospital with your leg and arm in a sling.  What made it funny was the acknowledgement that justice had to be served to those that deserved it.  How crazy is it for a couple to think that they’ll get away with dancing on a table totally sloshed? No way!  And so their fall was well deserved and justified for their stupidity.


As with laughter, a good cry or a solid applause results from the conclusion of justice being served and harmony re-established.  It’s very apparent when a performer is committed and dedicated to perfecting the performance.  You can tell how hard a performer has been working and your desire to reward him is so strong that you can’t help but jump out of your seat to applaud and shout.  This is also a form of justice and it feels good to bring back a state of harmony.  Imagine this scene: two family members are separated during wartime.  They struggle to survive only to find themselves lost and alone.  Years go by, with disappointment and despair after a lot of effort made to find one another.  The greater the effort, the more you want to see them reunite.  When they finally do, when it was least expected, you can’t help but to cry, and that’s because they got what they deserved, each other.


Look for #2 soon!